First results for the top and last teams of the Allsvenskan after the league's re-start over the July 4 weekend are more than a little worrisome.
by Chipp Reid
Going into the summer break, two questions loomed over the 2009 Allsvenskan:
Could first-place IFK Göteborg win on the road and could Örgryte simply win a match?
If the league re-start over the July 4 weekend is any indicator, the answer to both is a resounding no.
Göteborg traveled to Halmstad and despite controlling long portions of the match, could only muster a scoreless draw against a middle-of-the-table side. Örgryte had it even worse, losing for the 11th time in now 13 matches, this time dropping a 3-0 decision to Elfsborg in Borås.
For both teams, the results are more than a little worrisome. Although Göteborg still has a one-point lead over second-place Elfsborg, IFK built its lead thanks to seven home matches in 12 games in the first half of the season. Göteborg won all seven of its home games, outscoring its opponents 21-1. The road was far less kind — just two wins in six matches and only three goals in those six games.
So, can Göteborg win the crown if it can win on the road?
“We know we have to win on the road,” said IFK forward Tobias Hysen. “We know. We need to concentrate more when we play on the road. We certainly have ability to beat anyone, anywhere.”
Hysén said the reason behind his team’s home success is simple. “Our fans are fantastic,” he said. “When we play at (home field) Gamla Ullevi, it rains blue and white.”
The striker, however, was at a loss to explain Göteborg’s road futility.
“I think it’s just a matter of concentration,” he said. “I don’t know. I think if we concentrate one hundred percent, then we will be OK.”
Göteborg faces more than road woes. Thanks to Sweden’s semifinal showing at the UEFA Under-21 Championship in June, clubs around Europe have their eyes on several of IFK’s young players. Charismatic striker Pontus Wernblom, 23, is already gone, signing with AZ Alkmaar in Holland. Defender Mattias Bjarsmyr and midfielder Gustav Svensson are targets of teams in Germany and England and likely to leave before the transfer window closes at the end of the month. Hysen said there is little anyone can do about player moves.
“I really don’t know what the club plans to do,” he said. “All we can do is wait and see if they leave. If they do, then we will need to get some new players, either from our club or from other places. We have a tough schedule in the Allsvenskan, the European League (formerly UEFA Cup) and we need to have a strong team.”
Still, Hysen acknowledged his side must bring its home success with it when it travels.
“Teams that win championships win at home and draw on the road,” he said. “Right now, we have seven points from six road games, so that is pretty good I think, but we need to be better.”
At the other end of the table, last-place Orgryte continues to look for a win, no matter where it comes.
“Things look pretty bad, but I am optimistic,” said new head coach Age Hareide. “Staying up isn’t impossible. We still have half the season left to play.”
Although brave sounding, Hareide’s vision is simply par for the course for the Örgryte manager. Hareide led Helsingborg to the 1999 Allsvenskan title and also spent four years as head coach of the Norwegian national team. He said he believes former coach Patrick Walker instilled English-style discipline in his team and it is now his job to give the team spirit.
“There are 51 points left to take and I think it’s not out of the realm of possibility for us to get into the qualifying place (for relegation),” he said. “We need to learn that if we lose one game, then we must win the next.”
Örgryte has a chance to take that teaching to heart after crashing 3-0 against Elfsborg. Hareide said his side played well for the first 20 minutes, falling apart after what he said was a dubious penalty call. Elfsborg captain Anders Svensson took a tumble in the Örgryte penalty area in the 29th minute and the referee immediately pointed to the penalty spot. For Hareide, the call was a disaster.
“Where was the contact? He tripped over the ball,” the new OIS manager said. “It was a terrible call.”
Stefan Ishizaki calmly took the spot kick and sealed Örgryte’s fate. James Keene scored nine minutes later and Elfsborg went into control. Under-21 star Emir Bajrami made it 3-0 in the 87th minute.
“We played at first and we have to learn how to play well no matter what happens,” Hareide said. “We need to be consistent for 90 minutes.”
Orgryte’s problems are not from a lack of talent. On paper, at least, OIS has the players it needs to contend. Former Swedish international Markus Allback is the team’s main striker, while veterans Björn Anklev and Pavel Zavadil anchor the midfield. Orgryte is also ready to welcome iconic Brazilian striker Alvaro Santos back on the field following a long injury layoff.
“The problems we face now are in our spirit and how we think,” Hareide said. “We need to change some things and then, I really believe, we can surprise a few people who think we are already dead.”